The son of a Canadian-born Quaker father who moved to England, Noel-Baker was raised in an atmosphere of piousness and political involvement. He studied history and economics; at Cambridge, he chaired a debating society and an athletic club. A great middle-distance runner, he ran in the Olympic Games in Stockholm (1912) and was captain of the British track team at the Olympic Games in Antwerp and Paris. At the beginning of WWI, he arranged a Quaker ambulance unit in France and became its commandant. Then, he served in a British ambulance unit in Italy. He received medals from both countries.
He attended the Peace Conference in Paris (1919) and then participated in the formation and administration of the League of Nations and the United Nations. Mr Noel-Baker contributed to the establishment of the United Nations, including the drafting of its Charter. Later, he participated in its works by, among others, pleading to act and plan to eradicate poverty in a prospering world, supporting regulations on trade in arms, nuclear control plans, support for refugees and reintroduction of Nansen Passports, as well as long-term plans for organisational and economic development of Europe.
For 40 years, he was active in the Labour Party. Serving as a Labour member in the House of Commons for a number of terms, Philip Noel-Baker became the Labour Party’s leader in 1946. In the period 1945–1951 he served a number of ministerial offices in the cabinet.
A campaigner for disarmament in Europe, he participated in a number of international conferences, including the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva (1932–1933). In the 1950s, he returned to working on the issue. In 1958, he published a historical and analytical paper on the disarmament programme called “The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament” where he summarised the results of his extensive research, combined with his experience as a politician and participant of the Peace Conference in Paris.
In 1960, he became President of the International Council of Sport and Physical Recreation of UNESCO.